Fund targets entry-level jobs

By Todd Cohen

DURHAM, N.C. — A Durham venture fund and its nonprofit partner have changed names to make clear they are looking for a broad range of good investment deals.

A big player in a growing national network of funds that aim to spur economic development, typically investing in entrepreneurial firms in poor and hard-hit regions, SJF Ventures also is expanding its marketing.

And it plans to start raising money late this year for a new fund of $30 million to $50 million.

“Our whole mission is to invest in entrepreneurial businesses that have high-growth potential and that will create substantial numbers of entry-level jobs,” says Anne Claire Broughton, executive director of SJF Advisory Services, the fund’s nonprofit partner.

After raising $17.1 million for a 10-year limited partnership capitalized in February 2000, the fund has invested $8.4 million in 15 companies in 10 states from Florida to Massachusetts.

Formerly the Sustainable Jobs Fund, SJF Ventures typically invests $500,000 to $750,000 in firms already operating.

While it mainly tries to boost workforce development and entry-level jobs, the fund also looks for environmentally-friendly firms, which represent roughly half its portfolio.

“We have a double bottom line,” Broughton says. “We want companies to do well financially and create a lot of good jobs for entry-level people. And sometimes we’re lucky enough to have a triple bottom line if a company has an environmental business model.”

To help its portfolio firms’ employees share in their growth, SJF Advisory Services works to link those employees to local services.

The advisory group, for example, helps employees find insurance, continue their training and education, and build savings accounts through nonprofit matching programs, or “individual development accounts,” so they can buy homes and cars and even start small businesses.

“We’re trying to find ways for employees of our companies to build assets and become part of the economic mainstream,” Broughton says.

To help boost entrepreneurial activity in regions with little access to venture capital, SJF Advisory Services also provides business advice and referrals to companies, including those it may opt not to fund.

SJF Advisory Services, which formerly was the Sustainable Jobs Development Corp. and has raised nearly $400,000, also tries to form partnerships with other nonprofits to help serve portfolio companies.

“Part of our name change is to make clear we are a venture capital fund,” says Janet Cowell, a Raleigh City Council member who joined SJF Ventures in June as an associate. “We help our portfolio both on the business side and on the workforce side.”

Cowell, who was a human-resources consultant for Sibley & Co. in Cary, and a financial analyst for Lehman Brothers in New York, will market the fund, particularly in the South, to venture capitalists and to lawyers and accountants who advise entrepreneurial firms.

SJF, which typically invests in one deal for every 100 it sees, wants to increase to 100 from 60 the number of deals it considers a month.

“We want to get as many prospects as we can,” Broughton says.

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